Where capitalism is “relatively benign of itself,” as Chilton Williamson, Jr., wrote when commenting on Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Church and State,” Editorials) in the September issue, it is inaccurately named. The word capitalism means that what matters most to capitalists is capital. Capital is wealth used to gain more. That suggests that what men should most enjoy is the very act of acquisition, that nothing else can or should interest us more. That most pernicious attitude, prevalent throughout the modern world, accurately fits the verbal definition of capitalism.
What is really wrong with capitalism is that it focuses on getting more without considering how people deserve what they get. People deserve things by making them, because what persons deserve are the effects of what they do. Thus, “buying shares” in a company gains ownership of a business when, in truth, the “investor” deserves only money in return for lending only money; the rate of interest ought to be fixed when the money is lent; it ought not to increase with the profit gained by those who actually employed the loan productively. Those also usurp ownership who sell what they merely hired someone to make instead of having bought it from the maker; things rightly belong to those who make them.
Laws rightly enforced against such usurpations would render “capitalism,” when rightly named, virtually unprofitable.
—Vincent Colin Burke
Port au Port, NL
Mr. Williamson Replies:
I agree with most or all of what Mr. Burke says. In fact, I have written previously in these pages that the classical economy—a precapitalistic system based on the ownership of private property—was superior to the capitalist one.
On the other hand, by the end of the 19th century the Catholic Church had made Her peace with capitalism and explicitly rejected socialism as sinful.
I had in mind that fact when I wrote the offending line. Mr. Burke might be interested by Maciej Zieba’s Papal Economics: The Catholic Church on Democratic Capitalism, From Rerum Novarum to Caritas in Veritate (ISI, 2013).